Tuesday, November 24, 2009


My family is on their way to Chicago as I type this. Two parents, two sisters, one brother and a brother's girlfriend packed into a minivan, barreling west along highway 90, making a beeline for the cold, drizzly city I now call home. Six reasons to live this life. (Amen.) How's that for a strange notion?

I am very excited to see them. It is bound to do me good. And, as far as holidays go, Thanksgiving seems to be almost custom-made for my family. A weekend of food, drink, relaxation, card games, televised sporting events and neighborhood exploration? With no expectations of gift-giving, decorations or dressing up? Yeah (enthusiastically), we can do that!

Oh, and did I mention that I have rented them an apartment? A nice three-bedroom about half a mile from my place is just the thing to ensure a concordant celebration. No packing all eight of us into my tiny apartment. And if that's not something to be thankful for, then I don't know what is. Now if we can just find a turkey... Trader Joe's has run out. I know where I can find a rooster, but something tells me that would be wrong.

This is not the first time K and I have hosted my family for Thanksgiving, but it will be the first time we have hosted them in Chicago. So I'll let you know how it goes, and will also try to post soon about some of the things I've been up to throughout my two-week silence.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Resist the Urge to Steal Small Children

Last month I made plans to tag along with a speech therapist for a day, to get a sense of what her daily work routine is like. Those plans fell through when she mistook my 315 phone number for a 312 number - an honest mistake, of course, and an understandable one - 312 is local to Chicago. She came to my apartment to pick me up, but dialed the wrong number and figured that something must have come up for me. Meanwhile, I was upstairs putting the finishing touches on all the questions I was going to ask her.

Well, we finally had a chance to reschedule, and I spent a full day with A on Wednesday. We drove from home to home (and to one day care), seeing eight clients in total. A's specialty is early intervention speech therapy, so her clients are between 1 and 3 years old. It was fun to see how much she clearly loves her job. "I get paid to play with kids all day!" she said. Which is true, sort of, but there is obviously much more to it than that...

So how does one administer speech therapy to children so young? Well, one aspect of it is exercising and toning the muscles necessary for speech. Many of the children we visited have already faced serious health challenges (like heart surgery or liver transplant, or in the case of one little boy, down syndrome) in their short lives, and as a result their physical development lags behind what is considered normal for their age. Part of A's job is to get them to strengthen their chest, core, neck and face muscles, as these are all necessary to support speech.

Another key is improving the kids' ability to focus. For example, when A reads a book with one of the children, she gets them involved with pointing to and trying to name things in the book and turning pages. If the child starts to get distracted, A brings their focus back and tells them, "We have to finish the book first." She is strict about keeping the child on track, and she doesn't back down. Some of the kids were pretty irritated with her at times, but they always came back around to smiling at her. Tickling was occasionally necessary.

There is something very appealing about working with young children. For one thing, their little brains and bodies have such an astounding ability to overcome early challenges. A's expectation is that all of her Wednesday clients - except the boy with down syndrome - will fully overcome their difficulties and catch up with 'normal' developmental milestones within several years.

The case that sticks with me the most is that of a 35-month-old girl, L, who has apraxia and extremely low energy. Speech apraxia is when a person has trouble saying what she wants to say correctly and consistently. It is due not to weakness of the speech muscles, but to the muscles not receiving the correct messages from the brain. So L has difficulty putting sounds and syllables together in the correct order to form words. When asked to say "pretty, pretty, pretty," she might say something like, "tehpee, petty, beepee." She seems to understand everything being said to her, but it is very difficult for her to communicate.

Imagine being one month shy of three years old and so totally stuck in your own head like that! I am sure it is immensely frustrating. As a result, L is a very quiet child. It took A a while to warm her up to even trying to talk. Finally, it was the talking toy refrigerator that did the trick. (A brings bags and bags of her own toys and books with her to every home.) L had to say the name of each piece of food in order to play with it. I think I heard a tiny improvement in L's articulation just in the hour that we spent with her. I bet that if her family tried to engage with her and get her to talk every day, her progress would be remarkable. Sadly, that does not seem likely to happen. L's long, dirty fingernails (clip them!), really dry skin (lotion, please!) and blank stare do not paint a very pretty picture.

When I got home on Wednesday, I told K all about my interesting day. I described L and her dirty house and how her parents were home but didn't show any interest in her speech therapy. Sigh. "Should we go steal her and bring her here to live with us?" asked K. Well... that sort of sounded good, but needless to say, "No dear, we really can't do that." Nice of him to ask, though.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Urban Roosters

My boss' neighbor keeps a rooster in his yard. In a busy Chicago neighborhood. I had considered this a freak occurrence - who does that? - until I visited a friend's home in an even more densely populated San Francisco neighborhood and found that her neighbor has a rooster too! Is this a new 'thing' people do? Nothing against roosters, really, but if you can throw a stone from your yard to another person's yard (this is all assuming that both you and they are lucky enough to have a yard), a rooster is an inappropriate pet choice for you. Take my word for it. And lest you be disappointed about having to opt out of getting a rooster, just think of all the nasty neighborly plots you've saved yourself from.